Vinyl Spotlight: Johnny Coles, Little Johnny C (Blue Note 4144)

May 2, 2017 /
  • Original 1964 mono pressing
  • “NEW YORK USA” on both labels
  • Plastylite “P” etched and “VAN GELDER” stamped in dead wax
  • “43 West 61st St., New York 23” address on jacket with “Printed in U.S.A.”

Personnel:

  • Johnny Coles, trumpet
  • Leo Wright, alto saxophone & flute
  • Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone
  • Duke Pearson, piano
  • Bob Crenshaw, bass
  • Walter Perkins (Side 1) and Pete La Roca (Side 2), drums

Side 1 recorded July 18, 1963
Side 2 recorded August 9, 1963
All selections recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Originally released February 1964

I’m sure you guys get tired of me saying “this is one of my favorite albums” but I’m saying it again, deal with it!

Song for song, start to finish, this is a brilliantly executed body of work, and session pianist Duke Pearson deserves the lion’s share of the credit. As composer of five of the album’s six tracks, Little Johnny C demonstrates Pearson’s talents in a leadership role and points to his timely inclusion in the Blue Note family as an A&R man and producer.

Recorded on two separate dates, the program undergoes a drummer change between sides 1 and 2 while the frontline is maintained. Walter Perkins sits at the throne for the album’s most fast-paced tracks (“Little Johnny C” and “Jano”), his playing unique and imaginative on both takes. Coles seems to follow Miles in his “less is more” approach to solos, and Leo Wright’s work on alto sax is perhaps the finest of all the album’s soloists, arguably topping even tenor heavyweight Joe Henderson.

Engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs recording studio typically exerts a roomy, larger-than-life sound on recordings, But in a rare break from routine, producer Alfred Lion has opted for a tighter, more up-close-and-personal sound here reminiscent of the days in Hackensack. The result is a unique take on the Blue Note sound that has the immediacy of a Hackensack record but also the clarity and definition of Englewood Cliffs.

Little Johnny C is a delightful roller coaster ride that ends with a slow and gentle stop. Rising and dipping between up-tempo and mid-tempo readings, the listener finally arrives at “So Sweet My Little Girl”, a heartfelt ballad unmatched in its syrupy pace. Pearson rightfully concludes the album with a string of breathtaking notes that comprise one of the most perfect endings to a song I have ever heard.

  • Jcband

    I have a stereo liberty copy (black label) with the Van Gelder stamp. I pulled it out for listen tonight after reading this. I found that I liked it better after I flipped the mono switch on the amp much more focused sound the middle was thin sounding on the first listen. Much better when everyone ended up between the speakers.

  • CliffordAllen

    Excellent record. Leo Wright is quite underrated (although he spent a bit of time in Europe — probably why US audiences didn’t hear as much from him).